Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey
A truck comes to a halt on the Syria-Turkey border, a group of refugees from the violence-torn country piles out, and only a barbed wire fence stands between them and freedom.
As the 15-odd newcomers anxiously wait for Turkish soldiers to search them and allow them into the sanctuary of a crowded refugee camp, the truck turns around and heads straight back into the conflict zone.
The route to safety was perilous.
More than a year of fighting has claimed over 9,000 lives, and Bashar al-Assad’s tanks and troops are relentlessly pushing on against rebel positions, turning towns into battlefields.
“We barely made it on our three-hour-trip,” says Cemal Arabi, a 42-year-old refugee, after the group arrived from the besieged rebel stronghold of Idlib. “Assad’s soldiers are deployed along the routes.”
He said their truck was escorted by members of the rebel Free Syrian Army as it made its escape.
Like many refugees, Arabi said the Syrian opposition needs more weapons.
“Assad’s troops have heavy weaponry — tanks, artillery — but we are short of weapons. We have nothing to fight with. Assad isn’t quitting because of the strength of his weaponry.”
“We want weapons from Erdogan, we want weapons from Turkey,” he said.
Turkey has given refuge to more than 17,000 Syrians and has emerged as the main haven for Syrian opposition groups and rebel fighters, but it refuses to arm the forces fighting the Assad regime.
Every day, between 200 and 700 more Syrians arrive at the border, say Turkish officials. Their numbers have escalated since the Syrian army overran rebel-held areas in Homs and Idlib in recent weeks.
Turkey, which shares a 910-kilometre (560 mile) border with Syria, has broken its former alliance with Damascus and called on Assad to step down, while remaining opposed to outside intervention.
The latest batch of newcomers shouted chants in praise of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a one-time ally and close friend of Assad.
“Erdogan, save us!” they chanted.
“We want Erdogan to intervene in Syria,” said Eyyub Arabi, speaking with AFP from the Syrian side of the border, in remarks translated from Arabic. “We want him to protect Syrians from Assad’s savagery.”
Erdogan and US President Barack Obama have recently agreed on the need to send “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment.
The rebel movement, comprising deserters from Assad’s forces, has also been allowed by Ankara to establish a base in southern Turkey’s Hatay province near the border to plan operations against the Assad regime.
The newcomers waiting to cross the border were to be temporarily held in tents in Kusakli village on the Turkish side of the border and later transferred to one of the large refugee camps.
As Turkish soldiers told AFP reporters to leave the scene, citing security concerns, the group kept chanting: “We are fighting for freedom.”
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